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Oregon's rate of COVID-19 infection may be 'ten times higher' than testing shows, study finds

The Oregon Health Authority found that roughly 1 percent of Oregonians had evidence of past infection, much higher than testing rates indicate.

Posted: Aug 14, 2020 10:46 AM
Updated: Aug 14, 2020 10:48 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. — The number of Oregonians who have been infected with coronavirus may be ten times higher than testing would indicate, according to a new study headed by epidemiologists from the Oregon Health Authority.

The study was published on Friday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The OHA staff who authored the study found that nine out of 897 blood specimens collected from 19 health care facilities throughout Oregon between May 11 and June 15 contained COVID-19 antibodies.

Findings also indicated that infection rates increased with age. No antibodies were detected in the blood of pediatric patients age 17 or younger. The rate was 0.4 to 0.5 percent in those ages 18-64, and 1.6 to 2.1 percent in those 65 and older.

“We suspected that a much larger segment of Oregon’s population has been exposed to and infected with COVID-19 than traditional diagnostic testing shows,” said Dr. Paul Cieslak, a study co-author and OHA medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations. “But these results also tell us that the great majority of Oregonians remain susceptible to this virus.”

Between Oregon's first confirmed case — identified at the end of February — and May 31, OHA said that 4,243 people in Oregon, roughly one out of every 1,000 people, had returned a positive result for COVID-19.

"Because this rate doesn’t account for people who were infected but did not seek testing — such as those with mild or no symptoms, or people unable to access testing — the rate is believed to be lower than the state’s actual infection count," OHA said.

OHA said that "seroprevalence" studies like this one may produce a more accurate rate of infection than conventional testing because it identifies people who have had previous infections but did not necessarily show symptoms.

“Because most of us are still susceptible,” said Cieslak, “we need to keep practicing physical distancing and masking until we have effective vaccines, treatments or other means of mitigating illness.”

Cieslak emphasized that antibody tests are not reliable if you suspect that you have COVID-19, because antibodies don’t appear in your blood until two to three weeks after exposure to the virus. Plus, he explained, “we don’t know if antibodies to COVID-19 mean you are protected, so you still need to wear a face covering, maintain physical distancing, and keep washing your hands.”

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 32820

Reported Deaths: 543
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah7184138
Marion468394
Washington451960
Umatilla297641
Clackamas240861
Malheur162723
Lane121017
Jackson11485
Deschutes84012
Yamhill75713
Jefferson5348
Polk53015
Linn52213
Morrow4996
Lincoln48213
Union4462
Benton3106
Wasco2923
Klamath2802
Hood River2510
Douglas2324
Clatsop2120
Josephine1982
Columbia1711
Coos1570
Baker942
Crook621
Tillamook530
Lake330
Curry310
Wallowa311
Sherman180
Harney120
Grant100
Gilliam80
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 809890

Reported Deaths: 15606
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2678016514
Riverside581781189
San Bernardino54478925
Orange533151216
San Diego46610776
Kern31947369
Fresno28336382
Sacramento22269406
Alameda21189406
Santa Clara21153312
San Joaquin20194441
Contra Costa16572205
Stanislaus16452354
Tulare15970263
Ventura12729150
Imperial11835317
San Francisco11143101
Monterey988471
San Mateo9843150
Santa Barbara9061113
Merced8872142
Kings756980
Sonoma7412122
Marin6716118
Solano630963
Madera448165
Placer357745
San Luis Obispo354629
Butte282744
Yolo280355
Santa Cruz23589
Sutter170511
Napa168113
San Benito134511
Yuba11537
El Dorado11274
Mendocino93118
Shasta85617
Lassen7400
Glenn5783
Tehama5605
Lake54911
Nevada5347
Colusa5296
Humboldt5017
Calaveras31714
Amador29616
Tuolumne2274
Inyo18715
Mono1652
Siskiyou1650
Del Norte1391
Mariposa752
Plumas500
Modoc270
Trinity160
Sierra60
Alpine20
Unassigned00
Medford
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